"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" - a movie about female gaze

TechNews Writer
Mon Sep 13, 2021

"Portrait of a Lady on Fire" is a French movie based in Brittany depicting the era of the late 1800s. A painter, Marianne, is hired to secretly find a way to paint a wedding portrait of another lead, Heloise, for her wedding as she refuses to pose for other painters since she repudiates getting married.

The story revolves around three women: Marianne, Heloise, and the house help Sophie. The movie takes its time to grow on you; the characters talk slowly, every minute facial expression has many things to convey, the characters have their own different personalities and it is shown slowly, the intimacy between characters builds slowly, it doesn’t explain the character but present it to you, allowing you to make your own opinion or perspective for each one of the actors.

Eventually, Marianne and Heloise start getting close to each other. Their touch makes them feel things and as they start observing each other's gestures, we can see the desire in their eyes. The romance grows, and they start to develop feelings. Marianne for her love of painting does her job, but the conclusion for that portrait is what she doesn’t want to happen, the marriage.

The end will make you cry and break your heart into pieces when Heloise is shown crying, remembering the tiny details of the memories of the time she spent with Marianne while Marianne watches her. The farewell is silent and gives you a sense of sadness to feel in your bones.

The movie tells you to appreciate the art and preserve it even after the romance is over.

At every minute in the movie, feminine perspective is favored, undermining male perspective. It depicts how women see each other, free and living together, when men are not around. It can be magical as well as unreal to see so many splendid female leads, with Noemie Merlant and Adele Haenel. There are barely any male characters; if there any present they’re seen showing their backs, highlighting their irrelevancy, a detail from my favorite director as well as the writer of the movie, Celina Sciamma.

The whole narrative shows when women do the art, it not only wins awards but also makes you feel things which you never predicted.




Appears in
2021 - Fall - Issue 2